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RehabilitationJul 8, 2024

Professor Rui Loureiro hails the UK's 'huge talent pool' as he becomes head of research at the NRC

Rui Loureiro – who has just been appointed as research director at the National Rehabilitation Centre (NRC) – has stressed that an interdisciplinary approach is vital in the UK in order to create 'fast-track' rehabilitation solutions.

Professor Loureiro said: ‘In rehabilitation, we need to move away from the traditional clinical research which takes 10, 15, 20 years to complete before it is implemented and benefiting patients, as each rehab patient journey is different – a more holistic approach is needed to fast track the development and delivery of effective rehabilitation innovations.

‘We need to bring everyone together to develop interventions at pace that might not yet exist for our patients and then translate the research to develop further those interventions to benefit even more patients across the country.'

In a statement released today (8 July), Professor Loureiro noted: ‘In five to 10 years, I expect this to be the UK model for delivering rehabilitation, and I hope we will see it delivered and deployed across the nation as part of a “hub and spokes model”.’

The NRC programme received formal government approval in 2023 and work is underway to create a 70-bed specialist NHS facility on the Stanford Hall Rehabilitation Estate near Loughborough, home to the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre. The NRC, which has funding of £105 million, will open to patients next year.

Photo Credit: NRC
Professor Rui Loureiro has called for the creation of a 'hub and spokes' research model

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Professor Rui Loureiro currently acts as head of the department of orthopaedics and musculoskeletal science at University College London (UCL). As a researcher, he has a reputation for pioneering the use of technology in healthcare – particularly through exploiting robotics and virtual reality in rehabilitation programmes for patients recovering from a stroke and in movement disorders. He has helped people who have had amputations and with pain issues, and prepared surgeons to undertake complex surgical procedures.

Miriam Duffy, who is the NRC’s director, said: ‘We are delighted to welcome Professor Loureiro to the NRC team and know that his wealth of experience in rehabilitation will be of great benefit to our patients, researchers and staff. 

‘We look forward to seeing how we can best work together to transform rehabilitation research in the UK.’

Professor Rui Loureiro helped to develop the UCL-based Centre for Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology (Aspire CREATE). Its remit is to improve the quality of life of people with spinal cord injuries. Aspire CREATE is a joint research venture between UCL, the Aspire Charity and the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital (RNOH), Stanmore.

The UK has so much promise in this area – we have a huge talent pool in science and healthcare across the nation, but we need to get better at bringing them together, and the NRC will enable us to do that at a national level [Rui Loureiro]

'Huge talent pool in UK'

Professor Loureiro added: ‘Being part of the NRC is the right thing to do. For me, this is the opportunity to join all the dots and bring all the pieces of the rehabilitation research puzzle together to change the lives of our future patients.

‘The UK has so much promise in this area – we have a huge talent pool in science and healthcare across the nation, but we need to get better at bringing them together, and the NRC will enable us to do that at a national level.

‘It’s exciting to be part of breaking the boundaries by having engineers and researchers working alongside clinicians, all for the good of the patient.’

Case study

A patient with complex regional pain syndrome who had previously benefited from rehabilitation therapy using virtual reality to alleviate pain needed a bionic hand. The patient would have had to wait more than three years with a cost to the NHS of £50,000.

In a project involving the patient, clinicians, engineers and researchers a 3D print a bionic hand was created, fitted with electronics and connected to virtual reality. This was completed in three weeks and cost less than £4,000, enabling the patient to self-manage their condition and become pain-free.

Find out more about Professor Loureiro

He originally studied electronics and computing, advanced robotics and cybernetics to PhD level and arrived in the UK from his home country of Portugal 29 years ago. Other projects Professor Loureiro has worked on include a project (funded through the Ministry of Defence, Wellcome Trust, RNOH Trust) to develop a system using virtual reality to help patients with neuropathic or ‘phantom limb’ pain. The innovation has recently been awarded the IET Emerging Technology Award 2023.

The treatment works by providing an upper-limb amputee with VR glasses, which gives a first-person view of having a working hand or limb again. A robot is then connected to the patient’s residual limb so that when they are interacting with the environment within virtual reality, the robot provides the weight of the object seen in their hand or provides the pressure sensation to mimic the friction when pushing an object across a table and any collisions with other objects.

This tricks the brain into thinking the limb has returned, which stops the pain loop the brain has become caught in.

Author: Ian McMillan
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